Pop-ups crop up
These temporary restaurants sell advance tickets and offer offbeat fare here's a look at two of them
Published: September 19, 2012
Not familiar with the pop-up concept? It's simple enough — on a regular schedule, operators announce the time and place they'll "pop up" next, and then offer reservations for as many seats as the space allows. Venues can be coffee shops, bakeries, galleries, warehouses, urban farms, even brick-and-mortar restaurants willing to lend out their space for an evening. This week, we take a look at Chartreuse and Komodo Kitchen.
Corinne Rice is the certified raw and vegan chef who runs a dinner pop-up called Chartreuse. Her aim was to create "a memorable culinary and social moment that exists briefly and disappears immediately, as if it were a dream," and the venture has so far been a success.
If the project is unorthodox, so is her culinary background. Unlike most normally certified chefs, who can spend as long as two years at culinary school, Rice instead took a concentrated two-month intensive program in raw and vegan techniques at the Matthew Kenney Academy, named for its founder, a world-renowned raw vegan chef who Rice says "changed his diet by going vegan, and then altered his style of cooking to reflect that."
Unlike other pop-up entrepreneurs, Rice sort of fell into the phenomenon.
"I actually had gotten hired about a year ago to do a dinner for about 76 people, it was a birthday dinner, sort of a surprise party for David Wolfe, a leading expert in health and nutrition. I just developed a menu and created all the foods, and really enjoyed it. I didn't even realize it was a pop-up. My friend April Boyle [of Komodo] and I had a meeting discussing business things. She explained what it was, and I realized I had already done a pop-up. It had all the elements: A dinner, tickets sold in advance, held at a location not normally a restaurant."
Realizing that she was already part of a trend, she created Chartreuse. "I thought to myself I could do this on my own."
The first Chartreuse was held in February at Dell Pryor Gallery in Detroit, and Rice says there were "14 guests at first, just friends and family."
The most recent event took place at Rhiza Farm in Highland Park just a few weeks ago, drawing 28 guests.
For $50, diners get four courses, including an appetizer, soup or salad, entrée and dessert. June's event at the Fisher Building, for instance, included Asian salad (mixed greens, coconut noodles, baby corn, scallions and more), a jalapeño-watermelon gazpacho, a crab cake (with Creole slaw, red jalapeño cream and saffron-corn pico de gallo) and ending with a combination of almond nougatine, orange-cardamom white chocolate and vanilla bean-sour cherry marmalade.
All menus are vegan, raw, organic, gluten-free and, lately, pretty much all made with local produce. "I might have to use something like lemon juice," Rice points out, "and we don't grow lemons here."
And since it's local, it's also seasonal, with menus based on what's available at the moment.
"I try and hop around from farm to farm and kind of promote them and what they're doing at the dinners."
Rice's culinary artistry is one of the main draws of Chartreuse. She says, "The culinary school I went to taught technique. Now, the way to use flavors is something I'm teaching myself. ... I spend time looking at cooked dishes, on different menus at nice restaurants, and try to re-create these cooked foods in raw vegan form and achieve a very similar outcome — it just may not be served hot."
In creating menus, Rice shows a fondness for cleverness. "I like taking classic dishes and deconstructing them and putting them together in new ways, switching them up a little, being creative with them," she says. "For instance, I wanted to make a Caprese salad, instead of tossing mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, I made Caprese skewers — with a basil pesto to dip it in. Or instead of a Waldorf salad, I did a Waldorf salad wrap. I put together romaine lettuce, apples, walnuts and a mayo vinaigrette, wrapped it in large red leaf lettuce tied with a chive, and served it on a plate. A Waldorf typically has grapes in it, but I took them out and juiced them, turned that into a grape-lemon reduction, a sort of syrup, and served that with it."
The events usually overtake interesting surroundings, often with live music. Rice says, "I usually have one long table, with people sitting with people they never met before, so people are having conversations and leaving with new friends. Some people are drawn by that — by meeting new people every time they come."
Guests range in age from their 20s to their 60s, and Rice notes with interest, "I actually get a lot of people interested in raw foods that aren't necessarily 100 percent vegan raw, they're just into new food and trying new things."
The pop-up format also makes sense given the finely tuned fare on offer.
"There's high risk in brick and mortar restaurants," Rice says, "and then when you have a niche food, your risks are even greater. There's a lot more labor involved with raw foods than other cuisines, so the profit margin is extremely low. It's also harder to change the menu all the time. There are so many reasons why it's really difficult to run a successful raw food restaurant. But with Chartreuse, it's low-risk — and lots of fun." —Michael Jackman
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